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May 5, 2015updated 02 Mar 2016 10:12am

Prising open the secret and discreet world of London’s maître d’s

By Zak Smith

He’s the voice you hear on the end of the phone as you scramble for that 8pm sitting on a Saturday night, the erudite gentleman that greets you as you walk in and the recipient of that £20 note you fist after getting the best table in the dining room. Standing upright in the plush vestibule, he’s the man you need to know: ear to the ground, absorbing information far beyond his station, his rolodex a Londoner’s dream.

From bust ups over tables to illicit rendezvous in cloakrooms and dark corners, gluttonous meals to multi-million pound deals, Mayfair’s maître d’s and restaurant managers have seen and heard it all. With enough business intrigue, society skulduggery and celebrity gossip to fill the Evening Standard a thousand times over, discretion is the better part of valour.

As habitués of this rarefied and frosted-glass world, I was keen to speak with some of W1’s maître d’s to find out more about these individuals and their daily challenges.

I asked TN what makes his restaurant unique. ‘On a daily basis, we are dealing with some of the most powerful people in London, often the world. We speak to people you read about in the FT, and greet people you only see in Vanity Fair. We have what they want, and with tables at a premium, it’s a negotiation they are often not used to having.’

Surely people then mine them for potentially valuable information? ‘They know that what makes us unique is our loyalty, discretion and quality – if that faltered, their privacy would be jeopardised, and we wouldn’t have generations of families returning to us every week.’

With so many highly strung and powerful individuals gracing Mayfair tables day in, day out, I asked JL who were the biggest tippers.

‘Not one “celebrity” has ever given me a tip. The more A-list, the less generous. They walk in and leave as quickly as possible. The biggest tippers are often the sharp-suited hedge-fund managers. One got his analyst to run over with a £150 tip the next day to say thank you for sorting his important business dinner out at the last minute’.

With the likes of Boris Becker making use of a now infamous broom-closet at Nobu, I was keen to find out if they had ever witnessed similar scandal. ‘There have been some notable individuals, who have to remain nameless, that have been asked to leave a toilet cubicle. Our job is to protect our patrons, so often it’s making sure that discretion is key.’

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Finally, with so much uncertainty in the upcoming general election, I asked JL if they heard any information or felt tension among loyal customers. ‘The restaurant is like a microcosm – given the level we operate at, it’s simply impervious to political change. Labour or Conservative, our books will still be full. The figures discussed at our tables and in our private dining rooms are enough to fund a small country, and the discreet charitable fundraising [is] jaw-dropping.’

But even if these maître d’s’ jaws do drop, they won’t be revealing their clients’ secrets.

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